- Sen. Rand Paul threatened Thursday to force a vote on a declaration of war against ISIS
- Paul's move came during an unrelated Foreign Relations Committee meeting
- Senators debate the role Congress should play in approving military strikes
- Senators agreed to push off action on ISIS until next week
Sen. Rand Paul surprised members of the Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday when he threatened to force a vote on a declaration of war against ISIS as an amendment to an unrelated bill dealing with clean drinking water around the world.
The Kentucky Republican, frustrated that Congress hasn't voted to formally okay the military operation already underway against the terrorist group, said he hoped his move would "shame" the Congress into action.
"I think the most important duty of a legislator is to vote yea or nay on whether or not we are sending our young men and women to war," Paul told CNN. "I think we've been derelict in our duty, Congress has abdicated that duty. The President, I think, in his arrogance, has assumed that he doesn't even need to ask."
The unexpected move by Paul, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, prompted Democrats to quickly counter with proposals of their own and launched a spirited debate inside a small, camera-less committee room in the Capitol about the role Congress should play in approving military strikes. There were no TV cameras because none of the television outlets that cover Congress had planned to cover action on the somewhat obscure water bill.
During the debate, Democrats like Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, argued the senators had a solemn obligation to their constituents to vote on an Authorization for Use of Military Force, even if it's unlikely Congress can complete action on it before the congressional session ends in a few days.
But Republicans like Bob Corker of Tennessee, who will be the committee chairman next year, argued the debate was being "rushed" and that the administration itself hasn't said what it wants or needs in an AUMF. He argued that a lot of the "passion" in the room was from Democrats "wanting to go on record not wanting boots on the ground."
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, complained the proposals had some "very strange things" in them, including restrictions on ground troops. He said that would make it very difficult for the U.S. to defeat ISIS. He argued that the reason the administration has not asked for an AUMF is because "they have no strategy" against ISIS.
McCain said it was "ludicrous" a "nice little water bill" was used as a vehicle for a war authorization that has little chance of passing Congress.
"It's a living, breathing argument against lame duck sessions,' he said.
In the end, committee leaders got everyone to agree to push off action until next week, when they promised a more structured and focused debate. Committee Chairman Robert Menendez said they want Secretary of State John Kerry to testify in open session Monday about what the administration is looking for in an AUMF. That would be followed by a classified session with Kerry or other administration officials where they could go into greater detail about the military strategy to defeat ISIS. Finally, on Wednesday, the committee would reconvene in open session for a more full debate and votes on AUMF language and amendments.
"We will now have the opportunity to engage in meaningful, transparent debate ion the U.S. military mission against ISIL, as I've been calling for since military action began nearly four months ago," said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, a leading advocate for Congress to vote on an AUMF. "We owe it to our service members and the American people to have this debate and take this vote before adjourning for the year and I'm pleased we're on track to do so in the right way."
TV cameras will probably show up this time.